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Friday, August 31, 2012

Obama Honors Anniversary of Iraq Pullout


EL PASO, Texas - President Obama came to Fort Bliss on the border with Mexico on Friday to meet privately with service members and their families and to highlight the second anniversary of the end of combat operations in Iraq.

As it happened, Mr. Obama met with the veterans of both the Iraq and the Afghanistan wars, and some soldiers about to be deployed to Afghanistan, the day after Mitt Romney failed to mention either war in his nomination-acceptance address at the Republican National Convention. The omission drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans.

Mr. Obama did not mention his rival in his speech to about 5,000 troops, but, plainly referring to Republicans including Mr. Romney, he did say that the soldiers should ignore political talk of major cuts ahead in military spending.

“The United States will always maintain its military superiority,” he said.

The troops mainly listened quietly, but one of their bursts of applause and Army whoops came when Mr. Obama said, “After a nation of war, the nation we need to be rebuilding is the United States of America,” tapping the skills of its military veterans.

“If you fought for America,” he said, “you shouldn't have to fight for a job in America.”

Before his speech to the First Armored Division, Mr. Obama met privately with 13 people, including two wounded warriors, spouses of service members and Gen. Lloyd Austin, the last commanding general of American forces in Iraq.

According to the White House, the president went to hear “about their experiences, views and concerns on issues relating to the health of the force,” in particular mental health. Before leaving Washington, Mr. Obama signed an executive order redirecting some money for veterans to improve services for mental health and suicide prevention. His press secretary, Jay Carney, said the initiatives bui ld on previous steps “to treat the unseen wounds of war.”

The president highlighted the need to help veterans in his remarks Friday.

“Part of ending these wars responsibly is caring for those who fought in them,” Mr. Obama said. “We may be turning a page on a decade of war, but America's responsibilities to you have only just begun.”

Mr. Obama's visit to the base, his third in two years, inadvertently made for an awkward contrast with Mr. Romney after the Republican's convention speech the night before.

“What War?” was the headline on a scathing commentary Friday by the conservative editor William Kristol of The Weekly Standard. He wrote, “Has it ever happened that we've been at war and a presidential nominee has ignored, in this kind of major and formal speech, the war and our warriors?”

Mr. Carney said only that he was “surprised” by Mr. Romney's failure to mention Afghanistan, but he said that he was speaking only for himself.